Updated: Jan 22
Tore Dolg Stemland is doing a research project on the fanzine scene in Norway. Norway is famous for its immense contributions to underground music, and we got curious about the project. Tore has kindly agreed to tell about his passion for music history and the project on Norwegian fanzines.
Tell a little bit about yourself. How did you get involved with fanzines?
I am from Bodø (just north of the arctic circle) in Norway and became a part of the punk movement here around 1980/81. Since then I have done a lot of things in music from concert organizer to musician in several punk and industrial bands/projects. With industrial I mean more noise oriented music. As that I started my solo project early in 1983, and still do music as NXP. Around the same time I started my first fanzine; Requiem, because there is so much good music that people miss. Even then I was concerned with missioning people to things like Suicide, punk and anarchist philosophy (strongly inspired by Crass). Eventually I wrote longer articles about Psychic TV and interviewed GX Jupiter Larssen and Nocturnal Emissions. Industrial artists who have meant a lot to me over the years.
Can you tell us more about your research project on the fanzine scene in Norway? Why did you start this project and what do you want to achieve?
It started a few years ago when it occurred to me that the national library had almost no overview or physical fanzines in its archive. They simply knew next to nothing about this subculture. There were no Norwegian books about fanzines to rely on either, so I started borrowing zines from others and buying the ones I came across. Soon realized that there were extremely many and that most of them were political. It's the music fanzines that I wanted to concentrate on and it quickly became apparent that it's going to be a bit of a job.
With the music fanzine, I have narrowed it down to the point that approx. 50% of the content must be music-oriented, either through text, pictures or illustrations. Fan club zines and internet fanzines will not be included but I will create articles on them as a phenomenon. So far I have registered about 480 different music fanzines from the 1960s up to the present day. Some with one issue, and very few over 10 issues, but there are a few with over 100 issues! Everyone will receive a short biography and then data where the publisher, page number, price and content, etc. for each issue are noted. An insane job that has already taken years and is unlikely to be finished this year either :-)
What do you find difficult when doing this project? What do you enjoy most? The worst thing is to get hold of those who once published them, and then get them to speak. Some don't want to talk about their past achievements, others don't remember anything and, regrettably, some are already dead. On the positive side, there are many people who want to help. Without all that help, I probably wouldn't have known about half of the fanzines I've registered so far.
You publish Musikk fra Norge fanzine. If I understand correctly, it was a web blog at first, and then you switched to doing a printed fanzine with each issue focusing on some specific topic. Why did you start to print it? How long does it take to do one issue and what are your next plans with it? I was tired of getting files in my inbox instead of physical format. As with disability benefits, you can't afford to buy all the music you want to hear, so blogging and having music sent to you physically was the "payment" to do some PR for artists who didn't get notice in the national newspapers or in music magazines. So when there were only 10 to 15 files a day and I couldn't listen to everything (a lot because it was boring pop) I found my way back to making fanzines again.
Since I am a music historian, I wanted to do something in that direction. The previous fanzine I did (Fanz Magasin) was a pure record collector fanzine. This time I wanted to focus more on the entire career of the artists I featured. Trying to have a common thread in each issue of Musikk fra Norge (Music from Norway). The first was about women, as they are strongly underrepresented at Norwegian festivals and concert stages, which I think is not fair. Then various topics. One issue about the Norwegian industrial/noise scene's first years (up to and including 1989). This in turn led to me being invited to write a book about Norway's foremost noise musician Lasse Marhaug. Came out in November last year.
Which music styles do you like most and why? The first band I liked was the Beatles, based on what was the best I found in my parents' record collection :-). But in the mid-70s I discovered Black Sabbath, and their "Master of Reality" album was the first record I bought with my own money. The album took me by storm (and still does). Black Sabbath has been and still is #1 in my head. So classic heavy metal is one of the styles I listen to a lot. Industrial music (read old school noise such as Throbbing Gristle, Nocturnal Emission, Ramleh, Nurse With Wound) is another genre I listen to a lot and have made several albums within the genre both solo as NXP and in bands such as Psykisk tortur (Psychic torture). Why? Because it is music that speaks to me, that gives me energy and meaning in life. Moods and sounds that make life's peculiar boredom a little easier. Here I have to mention punk too, as it was the genre that got me on a stage for the first time and which politically speaks most of my case (Especially inspired by Crass and the English anarcho punk). Through it, my world came one step further by becoming a vegetarian and politically active in matters more than party politics. Other than that, I listen to most music, as long as it's music with meaning for me.
You have extensive music journalism experience. Why do you like writing about music? As mentioned before, there is an urge to educate people about all the wonderful music they are missing out on, that is never played on the radio (or TV). Been like that for a long time before I got out my missionary urge through fanzines. Later, I wrote both for the daily press and music newspapers, but I always fall back to the freedom of making my own fanzine. Is my catharsis from working under duress in the media.
How big was the fanzine subculture in Norway? When was it at its peak? Which subcultures had the most fanzines? The fanzine culture in Norway dates from the latter half of the 19th century, when political fanzines and flyers took aim at the state and the rich. In Norway, these were very common to the 1980s, but then the last remnants disappeared. No one knows how many have existed, but it is probably a significant number. Especially during the occupation during World War II, they were important in informing people. Music fanzines appeared in the early 1960s and then mainly jazz-oriented. Later in the 1960s, pop/rock fanzines also appeared. But it wasn't until the boom in the late 1970s that music fanzine production exploded. Most done with messy lay out after the cut and paste method. It would get better when the slightly more experimental fanzines Kitsch and Zink came out in the 1980s. Now they came in printing press, good and reader-friendly layout and longer articles that were very well worked out. In many ways, they were to be a pointer towards the metalzines that came later in the 1980s and 1990s. The metalzines have mainly been printed on a printing press, with a steady and beautiful layout and a joy to read even 40 years later. It was almost impossible to tell the difference between some of these and commercial magazines in newsstands. So the peak was probably the latter half of the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s. There were many metal zines, while there were fewer and fewer punk zines, despite that there are probably the most punk zines in Norway over the years. A number of prog fanzines appeared in this period where Tarkus could measure up to most of the metal fanzines in layout and articals. Oddly enough, there are few, if any, fanzines in Norway that specialize in industrial music. Even country & western has more zines than industrial!!
Which metal and industrial Norwegian fanzines were the most popular and influential? Here it must be limited to metal fanzines. Who has been most important is a question that has as many answers as there were readers. But metal zines such as Slayer, Sadistic Noise Magazine, Mag Of Hate (these three have later been collected in book form), IMHOTEP, Metal Shuffle, Morbid and more are the most popular and influential (I think). Slayer in particular can be described as the flagship of the metal fanzine fleet in Norway.
In your opinion, which fanzine was the best in terms of writing quality? When you sit down and read fanzines 40 years later, there are of course some that stand out. Personally, I would say that Slayer (metal), Kitsch (alternative), Tarkus (prog) and in recent years Platesamleren (record collector fanzine) are the ones that, in my mind, managed and manage the best. But that's just my head, there is no conclusion.
The whole landscape of music journalism and music consumption has changed significantly since the 90s. Do you warmly embrace new realities, or do you like more how it was back then? He he he, probably of the slightly nostalgic type who thinks everything was so much better before. Don't like how everything is seemingly decided within 10 seconds and many people read nothing but the headline, at best the introduction, but never a whole book. As previously pointed out, files in my mind are not worth as much as a physical product. Having a vinyl (or a CD in recent times) in my hand is how I grew up. Yep, I'm old :-) I know, but that's how my head is now screwed up.
Do you think people's interest levels in music are similar now as they were in the 90s? Are there more or less people now who are into underground, experimental or niche genres? I think the interest is probably as great today as in the 1990s, but people are not as interested in working to find the more obscure and the new trends before they leave the subculture level and are polished smooth by big industry so that it can be played on radio. All the streaming services are fake mediators as something is censored away, others never join that company and still others refuse to have their music on streaming services. Despite that, the subcultures live and the artists exist. The punk is not dead at all, and there have probably never been more metal bands in Norway and the industrial scene has never been bigger either, so the future looks so bright i got to wear shades.
If people would want to check out more about your activities and the fanzine research project, are there any places on the web where they could go to? For my fanzines (unfortunately in Norwegian) see Requiem Blogspot. I don't have a page for the work on the fanzine project. Probably should have so I could reach out to more people. Let's see if we can do something about it :-) Things take time when they have to be done on top of everything else.
For my solo project see here (note from harsh noise to more ambient noise, and even some rhythmic ones): NXP @bandcamp
Thanks a lot for your answers and good luck with the project!
Musikk Fra Norge #4 is available on Press of Darkness.